Urban Education is its own charism. Why do you feel called to work in urban schools?
I very much believe it’s where the Church should be. My family has a long history with the Church and Catholic education. From an early age, I saw my mom teach Catholic secondary education as a theology teacher and my dad work as a social worker in a school. I saw faith and service modeled all the time as I grew up. I found a great intersection of my values and faith in the service of students and Catholic education. Early in my career, I chose to teach for two years in the ACE program. I taught third grade. That experience gave me a profound understanding of the importance of urban, Catholic education to students and a broader community.
The Cristo Rey model looks to bring quality Catholic education into urban settings. Why are we, as Catholics, called to support this mission?
I believe that our world needs to change in a lot of ways. Our world needs a renewal. If we are really serious about helping God’s kingdom come to fruition, we need to work in the places where we need to see more of God’s kingdom. Education gives kids opportunities, builds the community, helps our cities, plays a vital role in civic life and builds God’s Kingdom. We need to be present and willing to get engaged in urban ed as a matter of justice. There is so much talent in the city. When students and families do not have the means, they may not be given the opportunity to reach their potential, which is a loss for the community. I want to be a part of bringing that talent and potential in kids forth.
How does your faith shape the work that you do?
My faith is the lens through which I see our mission — service to our employees, families and students. (My faith) gives me a sense of hope. There are many reasons that people may not see the good news in their daily life, and I believe that Catholic Schools are the good news. We bring that, and I try to bring that into my work — how I work in my community, both the Cristo Rey Jesuit community and the greater Milwaukee community.
What makes Cristo Rey Jesuit different from other Catholic schools in the area?
It is the only Jesuit secondary option that is inclusive of women. We have a co-ed approach. The Cristo Rey mission informs our model. All schools within the Cristo Rey Network agree to certain tenets: we only serve families of limited financial means. If we feel a family can pay the tuition at another Catholic high school, we recommend that other Catholic high school because we are here to meet a need in the community that was not met by other Catholic high schools before us being in Milwaukee.
Cristo Rey also has a corporate work-study program. Can you explain that?
It’s a unique program that gives students opportunities to build their resumes, understand what it’s like to go into the workforce, learn how to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye, and communicate with adults. There’s a premium on communication skills in the days of cell phones and texting. The work program gives them an idea of all the possibilities for careers out there. Our students get exposed to a broad array of careers that help them connect the relevance of the college experience they hear a lot about with what they could do in the future.
What else does the work-study program provide?
Most powerfully, when I talk about building the Kingdom, it is about relationships. Pope Francis has written quite a bit on the idea of encounter and the power of the encounter. The power of relationships. Anyone in a professional role will tell you that relationships are critical. Even teachers and students — the relationship is critical. Our program positions students in places where they are building relationships. They are meeting decision-makers. They can demonstrate their potential to these businesses, who then have an opportunity to receive work from those students, but then also as the student looks toward the future and the work that they want to do, they have a network of people who can open doors, write recommendations, provide summer jobs and maybe even a job after college graduation.
How can the greater Milwaukee Catholic community support the work being done at Cristo Rey?
We are always looking for job opportunities for our students. We have some volunteer opportunities available, particularly if someone knows a content area. There are needs we know could be met if we had some people who could help with tutoring, substitute teaching, or working with students. We also need drivers for our vans — we transport students to and from the workplace.